Germany Through a Different Lens

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The iconic German photojournalist Barbara Klemm describes her photography as "action in condensed form."  For over forty years, Klemm has captured the essence of Germany. Her black and white images have shaped the cultural memory of Germany and preserved the country’s historical narrative. Klemm’s work is currently on exhibit at The Goethe-Institute in Boston. The photos being presented are printed on barite paper and presented in 30x40 cm frames. The exhibition is a part of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, Stuttgart and is presented in cooperation with the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and the German American Conference at Harvard University.

The shots displayed at the exhibit unveil the strife in Germany leading up to it’s reunification at the end of the 20th century. Klemm favored a wide angle lens to gather as much environment as possible while also giving her subjects distance.

Her eye for capturing raw moments began with her first job as a photojournalist. In 1959, she landed a freelance position with the daily newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . Her job with the newspaper gave her a real taste of the turmoil of her country. Klemm felt compelled to document life in all social spheres: demonstrations, protests, cultural events, mass gatherings, and urban spaces.

One of her most well-known images shows the Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German leader Erich Honecker at the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. In true Klemm form, the photograph is shot at a wide angle to not only accent the embrace of the two men, but also the shocked faces of the people surrounding them.

Klemm stated in an interview with The Economist, “It was never my intention to make art.” She continued, “if one succeeds in giving the picture a composition, and if it can be condensed into a statement, then I might perhaps call it art.”

Klemm and her photography not only helped to tell Germany’s story, they paved the road to modern-day photojournalism. Well-known art collector Werner Driller said, “Such a free and unrestrained photojournalism will probably never exist again. That’s what makes the works of Barbara Klemm so precious to me.”

Admission to the exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until December 18th.  The Goethe-Institut is just a short walk from Emerson at 170 Beacon St. Visit goeth.de for more information.

A&EAva Gordley-Smith